Strawberry Diary: Modeling & Gender Dysphoria

I realized I was transgender two years ago, and despite all my efforts, I have yet to start my transition journey. I also, work a day job that is dirty and gross and have no reason to waste makeup, wigs, or bras to present as a woman on a daily basis. So, just because of how my daily life usually goes, I usually only present femme when I have an event, or a photo shoot. I’m working to change that going forward, as well as enforcing that everyone refer to me by my chosen name, but that was how things were until now. I hate feeling like presenting as myself is an expensive chore, but the truth of the matter is, for me to look like the woman I am, it is. It requires makeup, it requires a wig, as well as a bra and cool clothes. As lazy as I’ve been about this in the past, I’m tired of the world only seeing my best in photographs. My boyfriend has only gotten to see me cute four times in the six months we’ve been together: two photo shoot days, my birthday, and the day I met his family. It’s not fair to him that the world sees the woman on the right, but he spends his time with the person on the left. Now, no one is required to look a certain way to validate their identity, your identity is always valid, however I personally feel my best when I’m passing. I love going places and hearing people say “ma’am” or “young lady” and I absolutely lose it when one of my partners calls me “babygirl” or introduces me as their girlfriend. I don’t quite know what I could compare that feeling to, there’s nothing like it. However, I feel the opposite when I’m not presenting, and they say that in public. I feel eyes zero in on me, and hear the thoughts of strangers, confused why my boyfriend just called this scruffy bearded boy a girl. I know no one is actually thinking about it, but try telling my anxiety disorder that.

These photos are exactly one year apart. The photo on the left is from my 28th birthday, and the right is from my 29th birthday. Some of the same people, we’re all smiling, and we ate at the exact same diner. The real difference in these photos is my smile, they may look the same, but I promise the one on the left has never felt as good as the one on the right. I’d originally intended to present femme that day, but something came up and I was unable to. This past birthday, not only did I present, I showed out. I want to feel like that every day, or at the very least, more often. I want my partners to say “look at my hot girlfriend” and for no one to question the word ‘girlfriend” when they say it. This isn’t for others, it’s for me. I want that external validation, and that oftentimes directly conflicts with my modeling goals and my daily life.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my hair my entire life. As an anime nerd and a punk, I used to be angry that there weren’t any cool hairstyles for black kids when I was younger, and I would always keep it short. As an adult, I would grow my hair out, and then end up cutting it every year. But in 2018 I decided to let it grow, because I had a fantasy of a beautiful, ridiculously long afro, and became determined to make that a reality. This means that, whenever I do a shoot that requires a wig, I have to go get my hair braided, which is simple enough most of the time, however now my hair is so long that even braided, it’s become crazy difficult to actually get the wig on my head. Also, until this point, the only photographer I’ve ever trusted with my femme appearance, my true self, is Jasemine Denise. I don’t think I even need to explain that, she’s amazing. She captures me exactly how I see myself, which no one else has been able to do. The only challenge is the distance and how frequently we’re able to work together because of it. So, since I’m constantly thinking of new looks and putting all that on one person would be insane, I decided a few months ago to model some looks with local talent, and present masculine. I’ve found some really amazing photographers and the results have been fantastic, but now I find myself conflicted. Why am I modeling in two different forms? Why am I masculine presenting with others, and femme presenting with her? What happens when I’m offered a gig and they want me to present femme, but work with someone new? What if the world of modeling decides I’m only bookable in masculine presentation? Should I only model in femme from now on? Am I prepared to deal with transphobic behavior in the industry of my dreams? I don’t know. If I’m being honest, I’m even scared to make YouTube videos and TikToks when I don’t present femme.

I’ve had friends suggest simply cutting my hair, so I can easily slide a wig on whenever I want and, since I at least know basic makeup now, I should be able to look how I want right? Wrong. First, there’s a difference between makeup for daily life, and makeup for a shoot, a shoot should always be handled by a makeup artist, which I am not. With the wrong artist, a pink eye shadow look that works IRL, can look like a black eye in a photo, a decent foundation can look like you covered your face in yellow paint. Casual makeup looks, at least for me, don’t usually get the job done. Also, I know cutting my hair may seem like the easy solution, but the reason I don’t want to is because I know that with one more year of growth, it will reach the length I want, and I’ll feel so femme that wigs won’t be necessary anymore. I’ll experiment with different hairstyles, use hair wax whenever I get the urge to dye it, it will be amazing. I have to have faith in that.

I don’t know how to end this piece honestly, or even if it’s well written. I don’t have a solution to my dilemma. I suppose, I’ll follow my heart like I’ve always done. Maybe I’ll try presenting only as femme from now on outside of work, maybe I’ll find a hairstyle that feels femme and isn’t too difficult or expensive. Only time will tell.

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